Duval School Board Strategizes Against Amendment 8, While Lone Member Advocates For It Statewide

Jul 25, 2018

The Duval County School Board — minus one member —  has been strategizing against an education amendment set to appear on Floridians’ ballots this November.

Outgoing board member Scott Shine has a leadership role advocating for Amendment 8, the measure his colleagues oppose.

What’s Amendment 8?

Amendment 8 is a three-part education measure known as the “term limit amendment.”

If it passes, it would impose eight-year term limits on school board members in all of the state’s 67 counties. The amendment would also require “the promotion of civic literacy” in public schools.

The third prong of the bill is proving the most controversial. It would allow the state Legislature to designate or create a “state operator” to oversee and approve new public schools, including charters, without local school boards’ having a say. Currently the state constitution says only school boards have that power.

Charters are public schools, but they’re privately managed. They contract with school districts and get public dollars. Individual charters have their own boards and set their own curricula, and they follow a different set of rules for building requirements, for example.

Because of the amendment’s three-part bundling, the League of Women Voters has filed a lawsuit seeking to block it for being “misleading.”

How did it get on the ballot?

This measure was put on the ballot by the Constitutional Revision Commission, made up of 37 members appointed mostly by Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders.

The CRC assembles every 20 years to propose changes to the constitution after holding public hearings all over Florida.

Before the vote approving Amendment 8, the commission debated the bundling and language of the bill summary. Echoing the League of Women Voters’ concern, Commissioner Roberto Martinez, appointed by Florida’s former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, asked his colleagues to amend the title “School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools,” or unbundle the three measures. Both asks failed.

“I just think it needs to be clear to the voters what it is that they’re voting for,” Martinez said. “It doesn’t sufficiently describe it. It’s a big deal. It’s a game changer.”

But Commissioner Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who sponsored the term limit measure and state operator portions of the amendment, argued the title and summary together are clear, and they had earned the commission’s attorney’s blessing. And she defended the bundling of the three measures.

“These are probably —  of all of the groups — one of the most, if not the most, related group there is,” she said.

Donalds accused other commissioners of questioning their relatedness because of “special interests.” As she pointed out in a recent Miami Herald op-ed, at least 35 other states allow entities besides school boards to sponsor charter schools.

8 Is Great

Duval School Board member Scott Shine, who’s not seeking reelection when his term ends this year, has joined Donalds in advocating for the passage of Amendment 8. Both are part of the conservative-leaning Florida Coalition of School Boards, which supports the initiative.

Shine is also an executive board member for the “8 is Great” campaign, which has raked in thousands of dollars from companies linked to charter schools.

He said his main reason for supporting the amendment is the term limits portion. Duval County already has term limits, which Shine said have worked well.

“A lot of the culture around education in the state has been put forward by a relatively small number of people who have served on school boards for many years — some of them for decades —  and I think it’s time that we get some new voices and some new ideas in education,” he said.

Shine said, as for the bundling of different ideas in the amendment, his main concern is if it’s legal, saying it passed “rigorous review from many different attorneys.”

He said if people have a problem with the state’s OKing new schools, they should point fingers at school districts, not the commission.

“This initiative with having a state authorizer has come about quite frankly because school boards have abused their power when voting on whether or not to grant charter applications,” Shine said.

For example, Palm Beach’s school board has taken a hard stance against approving charters.

And the proposed amendment isn’t the first attempt at standardizing school approvals statewide.

A state law passed last year requires school districts to approve charter schools using a standard application, which many school boards also opposed.

Shine said he thinks this amendment's passage would take some of the politics out of school board elections.

“Today charter schools are putting money in school board elections,” Shine said. “There’s not going to be a lot of benefit to them to be involved politically on a local level.”

Duval’s Opposition

Shine’s School Board colleagues do not share his feelings about the measure. They’ve been strategizing a campaign against it. During a June meeting, members talked about telling constituents not to be fooled by the bundling.

“We can’t, as districts, get focused on term limits, but need to focus on charter schools that can stand up anywhere if [Amendment] 8 passes,” Board Chair Paula Wright said during a June meeting. “If they’re able to just open up a school, then why can’t the district?”

Board member Becki Couch suggested using the the slogan “taxation without representation,” because charter schools receive property tax dollars for capital improvement projects.

“You’re essentially going to have  an unelected body levying taxes for a school that they determined needed to come into Jacksonville, and there will be no one that you can hold accountable as an elected representative for that decision,” Couch said.

Couch worried the amendment’s passage could result in an oversaturation of charter schools.

“I’ve never had a constituent say to me what we need is more half-empty school buildings,” she said.

Jacksonville public education advocate Julie Delegal said in a recent Florida Times-Union Letter to the Editor that school boards have an important on-the-ground perspective on school openings and closures, as Duval’s has exercised its power to shut down mismanaged charters.

Couch said cities should decide for themselves if they want term limits for board members, which is what Jacksonville did with a ballot referendum in 1992.

In order for Amendment 8 to pass, 60 percent of voters must approve it. The Legislature would then have to pass laws enacting its provisions.  

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.